NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Former Indiana men’s basketball coach Bob Knight was known as many things.
Coach. Legend. Mentor. And to some, bully.
Knight — who died last week at age 83 — was even Santa Claus in 1986, giving former Beavercreek boys basketball coach Larry Holden the ultimate gift. Holden had been coaching at Beavercreek since 1979 when he and wife, Pat, decided that they would spend their Christmas budget on their kids and get each other inexpensive presents.
Pat bought Larry — who worked at Knight’s summer camps and attended practices in the 1970s — a copy of “A Season on the Brink,” a book written by John Feinstein chronicling the 1985-86 Indiana Hoosiers basketball season.
But that wasn’t it.
Pat had secretly written to Knight, asking for an opportunity for Larry to attend a game and be in the locker room before the game and at halftime. Within a week, Knight sent a handwritten note telling them to call his secretary and set up a visit.
“I always wanted to go in the locker room during a big game and hear what he said because he was a great motivator,” Larry said. “The most influential coach in my coaching career.”
The Holdens attended the Iowa game and had seats in the first row behind the bench. Holden was able to visit the locker room before the game, soaking in everything he could from Knight.
As the team was walking out, then-assistant coach Dan Dakich approached Holden with a message.
“Larry, I just want to tell you, if things aren’t going well, you might not want to come in at halftime because he’ll chew your (butt) like everyone else,” Holden recalled.
The Hoosiers were up by double digits late in the first half when Holden told his wife to bow her head.
“We’re saying a prayer that we don’t blow this lead,” Holden said.
Indiana kept the lead and Holden walked across the floor with the team and coaches and headed to the locker room.
“I probably had that strut because I was such a proud coach being able to do this,” Holden said.
Holden picked up even more from Knight at halftime, but what resonated most was how to handle a big lead against a better team coming out of the break.
“Let them back in and their skill will beat you,” Holden said. “Or up the lead and take them out of the game.”
After the game Holden again was in the locker room and was waiting to think Knight for that night’s experience.
“Before I said anything, he said ‘Larry, I want to thank you for coming to the game.’ ”
That wasn’t their only interaction that night. There was a call under the basket that Knight didn’t exactly agree with. After Knight finished, um, discussing things with the official, he walked toward the bench with his head down and then looked up and made eye contact with Holden, who had been watching the entire time.
“He said, ‘Can you (expletive) believe that?’ I said ‘I don’t … believe that,’ ” said Holden, who got caught up in the moment.
Holden actually was a candidate for an assistant coach opening at Indiana.
Knight had an opening in 1990 and despite the efforts of Dakich, he hired former New Mexico coach Norm Ellenberger, who coached in Bloomington for 10 years before becoming a Chicago Bulls assistant.
Holden stayed in Beavercreek and continued to have great success until retiring in the late 1990s.
And he thanks Knight for a lot of that success.
“He’s the one that got me started and understanding so many principles, things you do offensively and defensively to win,” Holden said.
And win they both did.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.